With one in three Americans meeting the criteria for obesity, and the AMA recognizing obesity as a disease in 2013, it’s not long before food addiction is an accepted medical term. If this country’s obesity epidemic isn’t enough to convince physicians that food can be addictive, then the research will. Copious amounts of empirically sound research has already scientifically established the addictive nature of certain foods and that food can affect the same pathways in our brain much like cocaine and other opioids.
Experiments in animals and humans show that for some people the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs (cocaine and heroin), are also activated by food, especially highly-palatable foods.
Highly-palatable foods are foods that are layered in salt, sugar and fat…the trifecta of brain reward. Think about it, a crisp apple on its own is delicious. Take that same apple and dip it in creamy, milk chocolate, then sprinkle it with crushed, salted nuts…have you fallen to your knees yet?
When food addicts are exposed to some of these highly-palatable foods, their brain produces an increased amount of dopamine (otherwise known as the bliss chemical in our noggin). For the food addict, this upsurge of dopamine then intensifies cravings and triggers a strong desire to eat again. This same process also causes the brain to override signals of fullness and satisfaction. As a result, food addicts keep eating, even when they are not hungry, and often find themselves battling a mental obsession with food, eating, and their weight.
Like any addiction, the symptoms that result from this dysfunction in the brain reward center are progressive. In other words, they get increasingly worse over time. A food addict may have been a healthy weight as a child. However, as his or her addiction slowly began developing, he or she most likely experienced a steady increase in weight over years, despite several efforts at dieting.
Food addiction cannot be fixed with diets and exercise alone. In fact, it could very well be that as a country, America is on the cusp of a paradigm shift in the treatment of obesity. With 80 million Americans obese, clearly the diet & exercise model has not been very effective. As scientific evidence supporting food addiction continues to emerge, Americans are bound to see a shift toward addiction models in the treatment of obesity and compulsive over eating.
The Eating Sanity approach to food addiction recovery is a cutting-edge, systems approach. To learn more, read about the Eating Sanity philosophy.
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